This post comes special from Houston, where I’m attending the 44th conference of the Society for American Baseball Research. A little while ago, I heard Houston Astros great Jimmy Wynn speak on a panel about the first iteration of the team, the Colt .45s.
Historically, Wynn is an interesting player, part of an underrated class of hitters unlucky enough to play during the 1960s when pitching ruled the game. Wynn hit 291 homers for his career. In a better era, in a more favorable home park than the cavernous Astrodome, he might have hit 100 more bombs. His batting average would’ve been substantially higher than .250 lifetime, as well. His 145 OPS+ from 1965 to 1970 hints at what could’ve been.
I sat with Wynn for a few minutes after the panel. Highlights of our exchange follow below:
Me: One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is I run an annual project on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. I have my readers, other researchers and fans vote, and you’ve come up at least once or twice in the project where you’ve made the top 50. Do you have any thoughts on your Hall of Fame candidacy?
Wynn: Once or twice? I should’ve been in there about 10 or 12 times… It would be a great honor for me to be in the Hall of Fame. I’m glad that people like yourself and your friends are beginning to realize the things that I did that’s Hall of Fame bound. It just makes me feel great. I’m honored that people think of me that way and think of me as being in the Hall of Fame.
I remember you as one of the great power hitters of the ’60s, and I would think that would be on your Hall of Fame plaque first. Would that be the first thing that you would think would get you in?
I would just hope so. A lot of things probably could help me get in: playing a whole lot of ballgames, playing in the Astrodome for number one, and just being the type of ballplayer that I am. I just love the game.
The Astrodome, was it a difficult park to hit in? I’ve always thought of it as a pitchers park.
It was a pitcher’s park, a defensive park. I assume [that's] why it was built that way. The Astros at that particular time, the early ’60s and ’70s, didn’t have many home run hitters except myself. There were some other ballparks where when you had home run hitters come in to take batting practice, they always come to me and they ask me, ‘Jimmy, how do you hit a ball out of the ballpark and I can’t do it?’ And I would say, ‘If I knew, I would bottle it and sell it to you.’ It was just one of those things, just a lot of practice and a lot of confidence in yourself.
Were most of your home runs there, were they mostly pull home runs or were you able to go opposite field?
I went the opposite field, left center, center field and left field. I hit a couple in right field, but just I’m strictly a pull hitter.
So 1967, you and Hank Aaron were in the home run race against each other that year, right? What do you remember about that race?
It was one heck of a race. I didn’t think anything of it until Hank called me the last game of the season. He called me and told me, says, ‘Jimmy, I wanted you to be the home run leader because you played in a domed stadium. I played in a ballpark where all I had to do was just get it up in the air and the ball would go. And I’m not playing. You and I will be co-home run leaders.’ I said, ‘I would love that.’ However, the commissioner found out about it and he ordered him to play the last game of the season. I think it was in Atlanta, I’m not sure, but Hank wound up hitting two home runs and beating me by two. (Editor’s note: Wynn may have misremembered some details. Aaron hit his final two home runs of 1967 in the 146th and 157th games.)
Do you think if you’d played in Atlanta that year, you’d have hit more home runs?
I think if I’d played in a ballpark that was conducive for players like myself to hit home runs, yes. And if I’d have played here in Minute Maid Park, oh my God, there’s no telling how many home runs I would hit here. But playing in the Astrodome, playing in the years that I played, I love it because I played against nothing but Hall of Fame pitchers, outfielders and infielders.
Of the people that you played with on the Astros, who were some of the favorite guys that you played with?
I would say my roommate for seven years, Joe Morgan. Johnny Weekly was my first roommate, he passed away. I would say those two for real, because they helped me along.
Joe Morgan, has he pled your case at all with the Veterans Committee? Do you know if he’s brought you up?
I called him a couple of times and he gave me his word that he would do it, but I don’t know. I’m hoping he will.
If you played today, in a hitters park, how many home runs do you think you’d hit?
Well, I’m 72 now, so I don’t know how many home runs I’d hit… A lot of people said I would probably hit well over 50 home runs if I was playing in Minute Maid Park right now.
Definitely. It’s an honor to get to sit with you. Is there anything more you’d like to say?
Well, thank you very much for the interview and tell your fans that thank you for mentioning my name again for the Hall of Fame and go out and vote for me.